We have all seen a myriad of absolutely wretched TV show remakes hit the big screen. There are unquestionably moments when just seeing a trailer for the latest remake is enough to make you cringe. Hearing about a some of these films is enough to make many think to themselves, “They’re going to make what into a movie? Why? Why would they bother? Seriously, why?” I am therefore pleased to report that the latest of these TV remakes, The A-Team, is actually pretty good.
The film is directed by Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces) and stars Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith, Bradley Cooper as Templeton “Faceman” Peck, Sharlto Copley as H.M. Murdock, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus. Yes, that’s right, Liam Neeson stars as Hannibal Smith, and what may be surprising to some is that he’s really good in the role – the man honestly appears to be giving it his all and enjoying himself immensely at the same time. He is not just sleepwalking through the film for a quick payday. In fact, the sense of enjoyment that Neeson gives is the same vibe one gets from the rest of the cast (which also includes Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bloom, and Gerald McRaney).
The film, while certainly not part of the same timeline as the original series, functions as an origin story for the these soldiers of fortune. We get to see them meet one another (except for Face and Hannibal who were already working together), become great at their jobs, and before too long get framed for a crime which they did not commit. The particulars of the story revolve around the DOD going up against the CIA as well as a private security company, Black Forest, with the A-Team caught in the middle. It is probably better to not get too bogged down in the particulars, because that is certainly where the film is at its weakest. Motivations for the bad guys revolve almost solely around cash, and there is more than one particular which will make you scratch your head if you think too much.
Also unfortunate is the fact that one does get the sense watching the movie that the four leads are perfectly safe the entire time, no matter how bad things look. Outside of the everyone-hates-everyone-else plot—they’re all dupes or bad guys except for the A-Team—it never really feels like Hannibal’s crew is in trouble, and that is a problem. Hannibal Smith is still a man who loves his plans in this movie, and even it appears as though the plan isn’t working, there’s never a moment when you will think to yourself that Hannibal and company haven’t actually considered the various reversals (no matter what the guys may claim). And that is a disappointment. It is fun to watch things unfold, but if there was actually a greater sense of danger or more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sensation it would work better.
Nearly all of those issues, however, are made up for between the cast’s incredible enthusiasm for their roles and the ridiculous plans that the A-Team successfully employs. They aren’t quite as ridiculous as some of the things we’ve seen MacGyver do, but they do approach that level.
I hate to use the word “fun” to describe such a movie, especially a movie with the sort of plot holes, silliness, lack of character development, and other flaws with which The A-Team is rife. Yet, from start to finish, if you’re an action fan, if you’re a fan of any of the actors, and probably even if you’re a fan of the original series, you’re going to have a smile on your face while you watch this incarnation. Carnahan is smart to not stick too closely to the original tale and the film is far better for not including any of the original members of the A-Team in cameos save after the closing credits (they’re added back in, along with some other scenes, for the extended cut on the Blu-ray, but the film is better without them). The film is undemanding action with some laughs thrown in and is pretty good popcorn filmmaking. Plus, there’s the definite sense that the door has been left open for a sequel, and I would by lying if I said that after watching the original I wasn’t hoping for a sequel to be made.
The Blu-ray release of the film certainly looks very good. Carnahan and his DP, Mauro Fiore, have opted for a lot of handheld shots, quick cuts, and close-ups of action—the sort of close-ups that too often obscure what is actually taking place. While that isn’t the fault of the Blu-ray, it is very distracting that some of the handheld shots have more grain and a distinctly look than the rest of the film. The colors are rich, and black levels good, but the myriad of CG used in the climactic sequence appear far too obvious. On the plus side, every time Hannibal lights up a cigar, the puffs of smoke look unbelievably detailed and truly great. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track will certainly put you in the middle of the firestorm and has loads of bass, but has the quieter moments of dialogue too hushed. Happily, there really aren’t too many quiet moments and those that are there deal with bits of the plot that don’t really make too much sense anyway.
Beyond the theatrical version and aforementioned extended cut of the film, the new release comes with a picture-in-picture audio commentary track by Carnahan. There are also deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a short featurette on the characters in the film as well as a longer making-of piece. Also included is a short piece showing some of the CG work done for the film, but after watching the disappointing look of the climax, you may wonder why they bothered to highlight the work on the Blu-ray. In addition to a trailer, there is also a “mash-up montage” of moments in the film accompanied by the A-Team theme, which simply feels like another trailer.
In a big screen world filled with so many disappointing TV remakes, The A-Team proves that with the right cast, right crew, and right person at the wheel, remakes don’t have to be dismal cash-ins. Despite its faults, the movie is enjoyable from start to finish and that is all it needs to be.